Pgh anti-eviction advocate is running for constable to reform the little understood Pa. position

Constables serve eviction papers. Former journalist Jacob Klinger wants to use the job to help those in trouble

By: - October 14, 2021 2:09 pm

Jacob Klinger (Pittsburgh City Paper photo).

(*This story was updated on 10/15/21 at 3:08 p.m. to include information about vandalism charges filed against Jacob Klinger, and his response to them)

By Ryan Deto

PITTSBURGH — Under the radar in this year’s election cycle, and, really, in every municipal level election, is the race for local constable. The office, which is usually chosen pretty far down on Pennsylvania ballots, is for a position whose main duties are to safeguard polls on Election Day. Constables may also provide services to local courts, like carrying out eviction orders through cash contracts.

Constable races rarely attract attention, yet alone multiple candidates, but this year in Pittsburgh’s 6th ward, a very intriguing candidate is running for the job.

Jacob Klinger is a housing advocate who is currently working as a tenant organizer to help people facing eviction notices. Before that, Klinger, who is Jewish, covered the Pittsburgh Steelers for PennLive. He quit his job in protest after the central Pennsylvania news site described a Neo-Nazi rally as “peaceful.”

He said he was drawn to running for constable after discovering exactly what their role was in the eviction system, and says instead of taking contracts to carry out removal orders, he would reject those and instead use that information to proactively reach out to tenants and try to connect them to resources that might help them stay in their homes.

“I am already doing so much of this work, trying to keep people in their homes, what if I just did this as an elected official?”  Klinger said. “I have seen kids that are out of the house and literally separated families. One of the messed up things about it is the neighbors come out, and even if people don’t like their neighbors, they don’t want to see them get done like this. There are clearly levels to intervene that are less trauma inducing.”

Klinger is running for constable in Pittsburgh’s Ward 6, which includes all of Polish Hill, as well as sections of Lawrenceville and the Strip District.

In addition to carrying out the duty of protecting the polls, Klinger said his goals are to help spread education about what the eviction process actually is. He says many people are confused when they get an eviction notice on their door, assuming that means they have to leave, when really it means they are just summoned to court. And even if the notice is approved by a judge, there are still other resources available, he says.

“A lot of times people get a scary piece of paper from their landlord, but that’s not the final decision,” Klinger said. “Even when there is an order for possession [removal order], it would be helpful to have someone who can level with folks. Tell them this means you need to file an appeal, and here are some resources for government funds.”

*In March, Klinger was charged with vandalism and other charges for allegedly damaging the doors of a Magistrate District Court in McKees Rocks, Forest Hills, and Baldwin which caused delays in hearings at those courts. On Nov. 12, 2020, Klinger and other suspects allegedly sealed the entry doors with foam insulation and the keyholes with epoxy glue, and used U-Locks to bar the doors, according to Allegheny County Sheriff’s deputies.

According to court documents, a conviction or a plea has not yet been reached for these charges, and the case is still on-going.

When reached and asked about these charges, Klinger said “It is an ongoing legal matter, and it is one I expect to be resolved shortly.” He added that this was the first time he had been asked about these charges.

With such an obscure and down-ballot office like constable, an obstacle to Klinger’s candidacy is his running under the People First ballot position in a city and ward that votes heavily Democratic. Klinger’s general election opponent is Michael A. Ceoffe, a member of the well-known Ceoffe family of Lawrenceville, who is running as a Democrat.

Klinger said he is hopeful because he has been canvassing door to door a lot and meeting with voters, directly explaining who he is and what a constable does, something he says many people did not previously know. Klinger is also buoyed by the fact that Pennsylvania no longer has a straight ticket voting option anymore, meaning that voters must individually choose each candidate, instead of just picking a party.

He said his move from a sports journalist to a housing advocate and now to a constable run has been a journey, but one he wouldn’t change.

“It has all happened in a weird time warp zone,” Klinger said. “I think the most I can really say is the same principles have run through it all for me, for the duration.”

Ryan Deto is a reporter for Pittsburgh City Paper, where this story first appeared

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